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Goodwill's reopening a small dose of normalcy for Lakewood Ranch area

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater

Bob Rosinsky, the CEO and president of Goodwill Industries Manasota, had to furlough 600 workers.
Bob Rosinsky, the CEO and president of Goodwill Industries Manasota, had to furlough 600 workers.
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I was so serious about the interview that I was prepared to wear a face mask for an extended period of time.

Maybe I'm the only one, but wearing a mask for me is like being bound and gagged by a burglar who forgot to leave air holes in the duct tape over my mouth and nose.

Obviously, I wanted this interview to happen.

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch
Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

Bob Rosinsky, the CEO and president of Goodwill Industries Manasota, had agreed to meet me Friday afternoon at the Ranch Lake Plaza Goodwill, a store I call the Taj Mahal of all Goodwill stores.

And I've been in plenty of them.

Yes, I am a thrift store junkie. I think I caught the bug years ago when I started a secondhand tool store in California. To fill my shelves, I had to go to as many garage sales, auctions, estate sales and storage locker auctions as I could.

I quickly found myself finding more joy in uncovering an antique tool than making $50 on a slightly used DeWalt table saw. In my store window, I built a display of all my rare finds. It was my own personal treasure chest.

Even after I let the store go, I continued my love of finding those gems that had been discarded. In that pursuit, I spend a lot of time at thrift stores such as Goodwill. Or at least I did.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all in many ways. Most of those are serious in nature. We worry about our health, our personal finances and the economy in general.

But this virus also has robbed us of so many simple pleasures. Perhaps that means a visit to the beach, the ability to enjoy a beer with friends, watching sports or ...  going to thrift stores.

I am a twice-a-week Goodwill shopper and I haven't been able to go since they closed to retail customers April 3.

Here I was, though, at the Taj Mahal's front door, albeit a locked door.

Rosinsky graciously agreed to an interview about Goodwill's reopening May 4 after Gov. Ron DeSantis began Phase 1 of his plan to get the state back in business. Rosinsky had to furlough approximately 600 employees since April 3, but he has been working long hours along with the 90 other employees retained to run the Goodwill stores in Sarasota, Manatee, Hardee and DeSoto counties and to get things up and running efficiently as soon as possible.

"We've been dealing with chaos that has been mind-boggling," Rosinsky said as he opened the door.

I held up my mask and asked if I needed to wear it.

"You had better," he said. turning to look back to his employees hustling around the store, all wearing their masks.

I put on my mask and followed him, my eyes darting back and forth to see if I could spot any potential treasures. Rosinsky was pointing to piles of loot his workers were sorting. While Goodwill had closed to its customers, it continued to accept donations through the period. 

"We've been collecting good stuff for six weeks (without any sales)," he said. "We're going to have motivated shoppers."

He went on to talk about the more than 800,000 donations (each donation counts as one no matter how many items are involved) that Goodwill Manasota accepted in 2019 and how they were on track for 900,000 donations in 2020 when the coronavirus hit.

"This community is so supportive," said Rosinsky, who has worked 48 years for Goodwill.

I was trying to glance around a corner at the golf clubs.

"I bought a $300 driver for $6 here," I told him.

He talked about Goodwill's jobs program placing 550 workers in 2019 and helping another 1,550 people who utilized the program.

"Did you know I bought an Armani sport coat for $15?" I said.

He noted Goodwill's veterans' program gives assistance to 300 to 400 veterans each year, help that isn't "one-touch service."

"Can you believe I found a Tiffany vase, worth hundreds, for $10 here?" I asked.

He looked back at me and smiled.

"Now that makes me want to cry," he said.

Seriously, he knows expensive items that get overlooked by his staff when they are priced wrong fuel the Goodwill fire. All those contributions Goodwill makes to the community wouldn't be possible if its customers didn't find the major scores at times. It's those jackpots that keep the shoppers coming.

Those shoppers were waiting for the doors to open May 4. Of the 600 workers furloughed throughout the four counties, more than half were scheduled to be back this week. Rosinsky said he hoped to get all the workers back as soon as possible.

"This has been a crazy six weeks," he said. "The uncertainty has been 10 times bigger than ever before. But we will get through this. I never woke up one day where I didn't want to come to work. We take things people don't want, and we create jobs."

I was led to the door, and I ripped off my mask. I could breathe again.

And now I can shop.



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